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Bye Bye Baguettes

Bye Bye Baguettes

About Professional Baking:
The Essentials

by Gail Sokol
Thomson Delmar Learning Books,
$55 hardcover
October 2006

The patience of American bakers has been tried. Too often baking textbooks read like lab reports, the how-much-of-what and the when-to-mix-it-in's are there, but the omnipresent "why" is hardly discernible above the instructions for tsp. and Tbsp.

Accomplished professional baker and instructor Gail Sokol believes that with the right amount of understanding and know-how, anyone can bake with success and confidence. Sokol brings her expertise and unique teaching style from the culinary classroom to serious—and curious—bakers in About Professional Baking: The Essentials.

Science + Art
This comprehensive cookbook is designed to present the principles of science that are applicable to baking. Why are the cookies flat? Why is the cake dry? Why isn't the crust flaky?

Sokol discusses baking basics using the most fundamental components—the ingredients."Baking is a science in which exact measurements are crucial to success," says Sokol. "Following a formula exactly the way it is written will ensure that you prepare a cake to be proud of."

So baking a cake is like doing the waltz. You can be as creative as you like as long as you obey the steps faithfully. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray pan with non-stick cooking spray; cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, whisk together eggs and vanilla, etc. The process is simple, yet appealing. It's all about following the rules. That's why bakers need cookbooks and recipes to tell them what size pan to choose or how much salt to add. About Professional Baking not only tells you the rules, but it explains why those rules are important.

Ingredients play a prominent role in how baked goods develop and take shape. Certain chemical reactions create specific characteristics. Fermentation develops flavor. Solid fat produces the flakiest pastry crust. Gluten helps dough to rise [see sidebar].

Each chapter of Sokol's cookbook covers one or a group of related concepts, and contains introductory narrative and background information; sumptuously illustrated recipes are provided as delicious accompaniments to the many culinary lessons. Throughout the discussions, scientific principles are discussed in a clear and easy-to-understand style.

There are also a number of special features such as the Professional Profiles, which highlight important culinary figures from a variety of industries.

This textbook is a fantastic read for the baker in all of us; it can be seen as either a professional text or as a well-informed guide. You do not have to be a culinary—or scientific—expert to benefit from Sokol's lessons. Her style is both approachable and fluid.

For those looking for a text that explains the chemistry and reasons for the exact measurements required to obtain an excellent cake or bread—in addition to a bevy of delicious looking recipes—About Professional Baking is for you.

Get a Rise Outta This!

To understand how yeast breads rise, you must understand the role of gluten....

Gluten—a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats— forms the structure of the bread dough. Gluten develops when water is mixed into flour. The more gluten-producing proteins there are in a wheat flour, the more water it can absorb. As gluten develops within a yeast dough, a web-like structure forms. This structure has nooks and crannies where carbon dioxide gas bubbles become entrapped. As the yeast continues to feed on the sugars within the broken down starches in the flour, fermentation continues. As it continues, even more gases are produced, causing the gluten fibers to stretch out and hold even more gases.

When dough is put in the oven to bake, these gases, plus the alcohol vapors, expand while any moisture within the dough turns to steam. This combination of gases and steam expanding inside the dough causes the network of gluten to stretch and push against the dough, forcing it to rise and increase in volume.

—From "How Gluten Trap Carbon Dioxide in Gas" About Professional Baking (p. 7)

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